I am afraid that the previous speaker will be very disappointed, because we are going to have to live with covid, like we have to learn to live with every other infectious disease that exists in the world. Yes, we have tried to suppress it. Yes, we tried to deal with it, but we will have to learn to live with it. Viruses, the hon. Member may be surprised to know, have been around for 400 million years—a lot longer than us. Guess which one is winning the Darwinian race.
When we do have to make decisions, I think one thing is very clear. Up to this point, the aims of the medical profession and the Government’s advisers and the aims of the Government have been broadly similar, but they will have to diverge at some point, because the medical profession will always want to see the rate of infection brought down to the smallest level possible at whatever cost, but the Government have different considerations. The Government need to ensure that the rest of the health service is able to operate properly, that the economy is moving and that the social and wellbeing aspects of the population are looked after. That is why the aims are different.
While I am at it, on a private note, I am sick to death of the Government’s so-called advisers coming on TV and giving their individual views, rather than giving advice to the Government on a confidential basis. If they want to be stars of Sky News, let them leave SAGE and carve their own path.
On what basis will we decide when we have this divergence? The first thing to say is that the variant will not be a reason for keeping lockdown. The variant may be more transmissible, but that is irrelevant if it is not causing more hospitalisations or more deaths. We have already heard from Public Health England that the two vaccines—Pfizer and AstraZeneca—can cope as well as with the new Indian variant as they can with the Kent variant. We do not need to hear about the variant argument, because I do not think it holds water.
What matters is who is being hospitalised, and where. Are the hospitalisations young people who have not yet had the vaccine, who may be at risk because of the increased transmissibility of the new variant, or is it people, as we have seen in some parts of the country, who have been offered the vaccine, but for one reason or another have chosen not to get it? We cannot have the country being held to ransom by any groups who have been offered a vaccine but have chosen not to take it; that is utterly unacceptable.
It seems to me that the essence of the Government’s case—if the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), wants to, he can intervene to confirm it—is this: the Government’s strategy was based on a single vaccine strategy, in the belief that, if enough people got it, the efficacy would be high enough that we could unlock at that point. However, the evidence published by Public Health England yesterday showed that the Pfizer vaccine is 94% effective against hospitalisation after one dose, but that AstraZeneca is only 71% after one dose and takes the second dose to get up to 92%.
It seems to me that the Government are telling us— I wish they would be clear about this—that they need a little more time to get people, especially those on AstraZeneca, to the second dose so that there is the level of protection against hospitalisation that we see with the Pfizer vaccine. If the Government presented their case in that way, it would be an awful lot easier for the rest of us to give the Government our support, because that would be a clear rationale.
We also need a clear assurance that the two-week review point is not a ploy to buy support in the House of Commons, but a genuine review of the data, whereby we will see within a couple of weeks whether the hospitalisation rate is increasing or not. If the Government give us a clear assurance that the two-week point is a real review and that we can achieve the full relief of the lockdown at that point, the Minister might be able to buy a little support from his own Benches this evening.